Have you ever found yourself talking about someone in your team and realized that, outside of work, you knew nothing about them? Have you ever had to choose a gift for a new member, and didn’t know where to start? There are many ways to meet the person behind the role, but today we will focus on one that in our experience works well: Personal Maps.
A while back, we were collaborating with a software development team of around 20 people. Even though we were all in the same office, allowing the possibility of constant hallway conversations, you usually got used to talking to some people more than others. We noticed that the work dynamic between those that knew each other better was much more fluid than between those who didn’t, which is why we decided to find a practice that would help create bonds between everyone on the team. We decided to use Personal Maps.
What are Personal Maps?
What is this tool? Each person creates a graph, putting themselves in the center, and in each version of it includes a different aspect of their life. From hobbies to family, from dreams to the hardest moments. The idea is to expand the topic range as much as we want to open up, in a way that the rest can visualize parts of our life outside what they already know (and maybe even be surprised). For a better understanding, let me share with you one of my colleagues’ Personal Maps.
Using Personal Maps also helps to understand diversity inside a team, and all the value it can provide. Related to this are the author, Dan Black’s, words in his article “The Value of a Diverse Team”: “A diverse group of people brings a variety of different strengths, personalities, ideas and talents to the table. You can use the strengths and differences of each team member to produce results. A strong team is full of people who are different from each other, making the team a valuable asset to the organization.” On the other hand, not appreciating diversity can have a negative impact, as the Harvard Business Review has pointed out, “40% of people say that they feel isolated at work, and the result has been lower organizational commitment and engagement.”
How can you introduce Personal Maps to your team?
For the scenario of the team we previously mentioned, we decided to take the following steps:
- We had a conversation with the team to explain the concept of Personal Maps and why we thought it was useful to use this tool.
- We provided guidance on which topics they could use (for example, friends, favorite movies), allowing them to skip some or add new ones, and then we let them decide how to create and decorate their map, with the only restriction that the output should be a physical element (if they did it on their computer, they had to print it).
- We established a checkpoint the next day to share our maps, providing a full day to elaborate them. During the sharing dynamic, everyone brought their map and was invited to talk about it.
- Once we finished the sharing meeting, we asked everyone to put their map on their desk, so that anyone that came to visit could take a look at it.
- As closure, we had a conversation to understand how the team felt with this dynamic and sharing information about themselves. In our case, everyone liked the session and most of them enjoyed it as there was room for creativity.
From this experience, the team began to create new bonds and learned that in each colleague there was a lot more to know than what they probably thought. When a person came to ask for help from someone else, they would take a look at the Personal Map and learn something new about them. We discovered similarities, and even found out that some people had gone to the same school or had friends in common. As facilitators, we learned the value of understanding that behind each role there is a person ready to be discovered, and generating spaces that allow this can help a team grow.
If you have a team that is now working remotely, you can also implement this dynamic with digital Personal Maps, which can be uploaded on a team’s board (you can use tools like Miro for this). You can also use tools like Zoom to create breakout rooms and allow conversations of randomly picked two-to-three people to share their Maps, trying to find similarities and differences between each other.
When facilitating a Personal Maps dynamic with your team, we suggest leaving room for experimentation. Each person has their own way to tell a story and allowing them to do it can help us to get to know them even better. You may also find people that do not feel comfortable talking about themselves, in which case you could allow them to create the Map about any topic they choose (luckily, they’ll usually pick one they are interested in and give us a glimpse of their actual Personal Map). You can also find people (and these are often the most interesting ones) that don’t stick to the regular “family = mom, dad, Jimmy, etc”, but rather share a deeper view or experiences and may use expressions such as “family = home, Christmas, river”, through which you can learn a lot more about their lives and way of thinking.
If you are part of a team, especially one that is just starting, don’t miss the opportunity to collaborate and create bonds with tools like Personal Maps.